Joyce Mitchell, Worker Accused In N.Y. Prison Break, Appears In Court
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Let's turn now to the breach at a maximum-security prison in New York. A massive manhunt is in its 10th day. The search is said to be costing more than a million dollars a day. Today, they woman accused of helping two convicted murderers escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility was back in court. Joyce Mitchell faces up to 8 years behind bars for her alleged role in the plot. Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio has the latest.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Joyce Mitchell hobbled into the Plattsburgh, N.Y., courthouse this morning wearing shackles and zebra-stripe prison fatigues. She stared straight ahead and looked somber during the brief appearance. In a sign of just how tense things are here ten days after this search began, she was also equipped with a bulky bulletproof vest.
ANDREW WYLIE: It's a safety precaution that they take in all high-profile cases.
MANN: That's Clinton County district attorney, Andrew Wylie, speaking outside the courthouse. In recent days, he's taken the lead laying out the narrative for how this complex plot unfolded inside one of the most secure prisons in the U.S.
WYLIE: This wasn't something that happened overnight.
MANN: In fact, the plot may have been a year in the making. Joyce Mitchell, a civilian employee who worked in the prison tailor shop, was investigated by prison officials over the last 12 months on suspicion that she formed an inappropriate and possibly sexual relationship with one or both of the escaped inmates. That probe was later dropped. Then, according to court papers, she allegedly began supplying Richard Matt and David Sweat with saw blades, drill bits and other contraband likely sometime in early May. Speaking Sunday, Wylie said it appears the inmates were also able to gain access to power tools left in the prison by maintenance contractors.
WYLIE: They had access, from what we understand, to other tools that were left in the facility by contractors under policy that the Corrections has and were able to open the toolboxes and potentially utilize those tools there.
MANN: Wylie says it now appears that the scheme to cut their way through steel walls and a steam pipe may have unfolded over a period of four to five weeks with the men slipping out of their cells, working slyly in tunnels and utility corridors to avoid being overheard. That all went on right under the noses of prison authorities. Andrew Wylie says Mitchell was also meant to be the getaway driver, but she got cold feet and backed out.
WYLIE: I have no reason to believe that there was a plan B.
MANN: And that's an important point. That's why authorities think these men could still be trapped here in this remote area. But the truth is, no one really knows what the inmates were planning or how elaborate their scheme was. Here's Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking yesterday.
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ANDREW CUOMO: We don't know if they are still in the immediate area or if they are in Mexico by now, right?
MANN: Today, Cuomo launched a probe by the state inspector general to find out what went wrong at the prison and to begin fixing any lapses in security. Meanwhile, local officials are refusing to comment on reports that Joyce Mitchell also conspired with the two escaped murderers to kill her own husband who also works at the prison. They have confirmed, though, that more arrests of prison workers are possible. Here's State Police major Charles Guess.
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MAJOR CHARLES GUESS: We're interviewing numerous civilian personnel within Clinton Correctional Facility, and we are also interviewing certified staff members of Clinton Correctional Facility.
MANN: As that probe continues, frustration here is growing. More than 800 state and federal agents are out there right now slogging through woods and rain-soaked fields battling mud, mosquitoes and black flies. They're still hoping to find the first real clues that will lead them to these two convicted murderers. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.